It was some weeks since Ziggy had been out for a drink with his friend Zara (aka Zarathustra, the postmodern-day prophet of renown) and he had been looking forward to indulging in some stimulating discussion about their favourite topic, namely the foibles and failings of celebrities (particularly of the political variety) who had been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. So he was curious as to why his drinking buddy was currently looking so disengaged.
“Haven’t you read the newspapers today?” was the unhelpful reply elicited by his request for clarification. Well, Ziggy had read most of the news headlines and indeed listened to a few of the podcasts on his newsfeed that morning but hadn’t found anything he would classify as any more unsettling than the usual selection of titbits. He awaited the further clarification he assumed would follow. “It’s that Farage bloke, innit?” Ziggy judged that this second question too was rhetorical in nature.
“I mean it was only a couple of weeks back that he promised he was about to leave the country for good. And here he is back in the limelight again with government ministers scurrying to protect his “rights”. Ziggy inferred this complaint was in relation to Nigel Farage’s recent suggestion that his inability to find a UK bank willing to handle his finances after having been dumped by Coutts Bank after 10 years as a loyal customer would make it difficult for him to find continuing employment in the UK. It crossed his mind that this was somewhat mischaracterised by Zara as a “promise” to leave the country, and was tempted to offer the riposte that, if Zara had indeed taken Nigel’s words as a promise it would have been the first occasion that he had afforded any credence to Farage’s reported utterances. But again he opted to keep his own counsel. Why pick a quarrel with a friend over the amuse-bouche when the main course is yet to be served?
So, when Ziggy finally spoke it was with a studied air of equanimity, soliciting greater detail about which actions of which government ministers were being alluded to. If his intention was to get more quickly to the meat, he certainly succeeded. “Well, for a start, there’s the Prime Minister vowing to ‘crack down’ on banks removing customers for so-called non-commercial reasons, among which he clearly includes racist bigotry from the likes of Farage. Then there is some guy at the Treasury demanding that banking licences be removed from banks and other payment service providers that discriminate against customers who share the beliefs of people like Farage. And another former minister has said the executives responsible for kicking Farage out should not be considered ‘fit and proper’ people to run the bank: he would have that wonderful woman that is currently in charge sacked or disciplined for doing her job responsibly, saving the planet and putting diversity at the heart of the business.” (Zara was not the best at remembering the names of political actors whose views and actions he disapproved of, or come to think of it business executives, even those whose behaviour he sought to approve of.)
Ziggy nodded knowingly as if he were somehow already familiar with the litany of sins these government ministers had committed. “I see, you are concerned that Dame Alison, the executive of whom you speak, might lose some of her £5.25M salary and performance-related bonuses?” Well, that is not quite how Zara would himself have put it, but it was the implication of the line of argument he had taken so he acquiesced and sought to move on. But Ziggy was at this point less inclined to maintain his studied equanimity. “But haven’t you been complaining for years about unaccountable bankers being overpaid while shafting their customers?” Zara, suddenly sensing that the momentum he had built up in his tirade against Farage was not necessarily taking him in a direction he wanted to go, started applying the brakes tentatively: “Ah, but this is different.”
Well he may in this way have slowed down his headlong rush into he knew not quite where, but only at the cost of giving Ziggy time to execute the next stage of his ambush: “Ah! You mean ‘different’ in the sense that Dame Alison is here the victim of a form of Cancel Culture. And that means she deserves sympathy rather than contempt?”
He desperately wanted to pick up the pace again and move on, but Ziggy meanwhile had picked up his glass to savour the ale (and, it would seem, the moment) and was leaving the floor open to him, Zara, to clarify his meaning. “Well yes,” he ventured, “but…” He was fortunately spared the need to extricate himself further from his predicament as Ziggy helpfully stepped in to endorse the position he had taken: “Then you are to be commended on the robust stand you are taking against the inappropriate use of Cancel Culture as a means of curtailing the right of free expression.” Zara, was happy to have this praise lavished on him but was aware of a creeping realisation of the inconsistency of the position he had just endorsed with that he had taken in relation to Nigel Farage and indeed everyone else whose opinions (real or purported) he disliked that they deserved to be cancelled. He stalled again: “Well yes, but…” At this juncture, he was in no doubt that the sharks were circling. What did Ziggy have up his sleeve?
“So, just to be clear, in concluding that this situation is an ‘inappropriate’ use of Cancel Culture, does that mean that the CEO of the bank is to be seen as the victim here and that those looking to protect customers from having their accounts closed down are the oppressors?” Well now he had said it, that did appear to be a correct inference, but it was not at all what he had meant to say. Why was his friend, so obviously quick-witted and insightful in most discussions, prone to these bouts of obtuseness in relation to some of the most important issues?
Ziggy had once more paused, giving the floor to his friend. But the latter, rather than acknowledging the courtesy, now looked down at his half-empty glass, promptly lifted it to his lips and drained it. “Thirsty work, this philosophical discourse,” he intoned. “I think it must be my round.” Well, thought Ziggy, if his friend wished to misremember on this issue, studied equanimity on his part would continue to be his best policy. “I’ll have the same…” he began, but Zara was already halfway to the bar and out of earshot.
Disclaimer: references to Zarathustra in the above are an allusion to the eponymous protagonist of Friedrich Nietzche’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not to the Iranian religious reformer and prophet, traditionally regarded as the founder of Zoroastrianism.,